Some say that the third time’s a charm. Not so for SpaceX, whose unmanned rocket on Wednesday exploded on the ground after carrying out what had seemed to be a successful flight and landing — fresh on the heels of two fiery crashes.
It was yet another flub involving a prototype of the Starship rocket, which SpaceX hopes one day to send to Mars.
“A beautiful soft landing,” a SpaceX commentator said on a live broadcast of the test flight, although flames were coming out at the bottom and crews were trying to put them out.
Photo: Jose Romero / SpaceX / AFP
The rocket exploded a few minutes later, lurching into the air and crashing back to the ground.
“As if the flight test was not exciting enough, SN10 experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly shortly after landing,” SpaceX joked on its Web site, without giving an explanation for the explosion.
“All in all a great day for the Starship teams,” it said, adding that test flights helped with the development of a reusable transport system to carry crew and cargo on interplanetary flights, to the moon, Mars and beyond.
“Starship SN10 landed in one piece,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk wrote on Twitter, about an hour after the explosion.
“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” he wrote later.
The latest prototype, named SN10, for serial No. 10, took off a little before 5:20pm from Boca Chica, Texas.
The rocket rose into the sky and progressively shut down its three engines as it reached a height of 10km and assumed a horizontal position, before becoming vertical again and returning to Earth.
As seen on SpaceX video, it appeared to have otherwise landed properly after its flight. Then came the explosion.
Musk has been developing the next-generation Starship rocket for the purpose of going to Mars, although two prototypes — SN8 and SN9 — blew up in spectacular fashion on their test runs in December and early last month.
The tests take place in a nearly deserted area leased by SpaceX in South Texas near the border with Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico — the area is vast and empty enough that an accident or explosion would not likely cause damage or fatalities.
Apart from Mars, the rocket, if it becomes operational, could also prove useful for closer trips, especially to the moon.
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